When I was very young, my parents would plan weekend camping trips, often visiting state parks. Ohio has over 70 such parks, and though we only traveled to a handful of them, our travels introduced me to the idea of public lands set aside for recreation and sheer enjoyment, long before I ever visited my first national park.
As an adult, though, I have given very little thought to exploring these state parks, forests, and nature preserves until this year. I plan to rectify that in 2017 with some new hiking goals. But I confess to being truly embarrassed that in over 20 years of living in this town, I have never before taken the time to explore a nearby state park that I have always known to be a little more impressive than most of the others.
Mohican State Park, just south of Loudonville, requires just over half an hour of driving from my home. It covers 1110 acres along the Mohican River and pairs with the adjacent 4525-acre state forest to provide wooded trails, camping facilities, outdoor sports, and gorgeous scenery to explore. Though I have gone canoeing on the river in years past, I had never hiked here before today.
Earlier this fall, I had splurged on the book 50 Hikes in Ohio, and among the trails featured for my northeastern quadrant of the state was the hike up and down the Clear Fork Gorge of the Mohican. Starting at the wooden covered bridge, the trail winds west along the south edge of the Clear Fork, climbs up to Big Lyons Falls and its neighbor Little Lyons Falls, skirts around Pleasant Hill Dam, and returns along the north bank of the river, covering just under 3 miles.
It sounded to me like a great hike, but since the trail was described as a “moderate to difficult” hike, I thought it best to wait until my hiking buddy was free to join me. Given that neither of us had much work to worry about during this last week of the year, and that this looked like an ideal hiking day weather-wise, we agreed to meet up mid-morning and head to Mohican.
After crossing a few sections of boardwalk, we quickly discovered that the first section of the trail not only slowly drew us uphill, it also kept us on the not-so-straight and narrow, with the trail edging perilously close to a steep slope down to the river. We clambered over endless tree roots and dodged muddy patches before spotting the sign for the Lyons Falls Trail heading up the hill to our left.
I may be slow when it comes to climbing hills, but with my trusty hiking poles, I am at least steady in my progress. It wasn’t long before I could hear the rush of water in the distance, and sure enough, we followed a tumbling stream up to an impressive semi-circular sandstone ledge formation with two wispy cascades plummeting over the rock face. I followed the rock ledge around, photographing Big Lyons Falls from different angles, and had the thrill of standing under and behind a waterfall for the first time in my life.
We followed the wooden stairs up and out of this small gorge and followed the trail another half mile to Little Lyons Falls, approaching it from the top of its gorge instead of the bottom. A much smaller waterfall, Little Lyons is more sheltered and still had icy plumes clinging to the rock walls. We crossed the footbridge over the top of the falls, returned to the woods, and ended up at Pleasant Hill Dam after another half mile of hiking.
We found a bench in the sunshine and took a brief break to share a scone, some water, and a breather before climbing the steps down the dam to river level. We followed the trail along the north edge of the river, a thoroughly muddy path through the flood plain, and enjoyed the peaceful sounds of the water rippling by as it caught the brilliant midday sunshine. And by the time we returned to the covered bridge, I found myself thoroughly satisfied with the outing and hoping we could hike it again another time.
Since Mohican State Park has about 8 miles of hiking-only trails as well as many more miles of bike, bridle, and snowmobile trails that also welcome hikers, I am fairly certain that this was only the first of many visits to Mohican. We’ve got a lot of mileage yet to cover, and Mohican hasn’t seen the last of us yet!